This is Episode 1-3 of a serial urban fantasy & paranormal story.

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Part 1-3: Book

That was how it started. Wifi, a weirdo, and an equally weird explosion. But after the excitement had worn off, and after we’d learned that no one had been seriously injured, it was kinda chalked up as one of those oddball days, y’know? I didn’t think too much of it.

Also, I was distracted with trying to figure out how to start a restaurant. That’s why we were here, after all. Deluxe was going to finance it and I was going to run it. The Unhealthy Vegetarian was our concept: meatless but indulgent. A month ago, we had moved to this little town from a much larger city. We’d spent two weeks getting settled in, and the next two brainstorming and researching.

At any given time, Deluxe was distracted by at least three wild ideas or projects, yet she remained fixated on the cause of the incident for at least a week afterward, bombarding me with ideas about micro-airburst events and ultrasonic extractions that I could only half understand. I became a little annoyed with her lack of focus on the restaurant, and was in fact seeking refuge from her when the next bit of strangeness occurred.

Determined to be productive, I returned to Glenscot's Cafe, and waited for the manager to get back from lunch. I wanted to talk about the town’s overall food and dining scene, possibly spin up some partnerships with their bakery, that sort of thing. It was midday on a Wednesday, so again, most of the patrons were elderly. No socially troubling dudes to be found. I did, however, spot his book. The Secret to Living sat on the tiny bookcase, lying by itself beside its neatly arranged brethren.

Curious as to what someone like Wifi Willy would read, I snatched it up. The cover was plain blue, with only the title and author on the front. It was written by one John B. Zachary. I flipped it open to where I figured the table of contents would be. Except the pages were blank.

I felt something tickle at the base of my spine, somehow very sure that this book was not okay, that I shouldn’t be touching it. But I couldn’t help paging through it, hoping to find something. It was empty, every last bit of it.

“Miss Bisk?”

I looked around. A middle aged, apron-clad man regarded me with a touch of concern. He adjusted his glasses.

I remembered how to function. “Hello!” I blurted.

“Hello. You’re Alena, yes? You called this morning?”

“Oh! I did. That was me. I called. How are you? Harold, is it?”

“Harold Glenscot of Glenscot’s Cafe at your service.” He stuck out his right hand.

My right hand was busy holding the book, so I made things a little more awkward by blinking at it for a moment before swapping it over to my left. I shook his hand and tried to redeem myself.

“So nice to meet you! Thank you for doing this. I’ve loved this place ever since I moved.”

“My pleasure. How long have you been here?”

We did the small talk thing for a bit, migrated to a table and chatted business. Harold didn’t have a wealth of advice for me about the dining scene; nothing I hadn’t figured out on the Internet already. He seemed to like our take on the vegetarian ‘fad,’ as he called it. He was interested but noncommittal on the subject of providing baked goods for a restaurant.

The book ended up on the table with us and I did a good job of not letting it bother me, though part of me really wanted to check it again to make sure it truly was empty. I was concerned I’d look and it would be full of words and then I’d have to go see a doctor.

Harold ended up saving me the trouble. As the conversation was wrapping up he tapped the blue book and said, “Odd piece, that one is.”

“It was empty when I looked,” I said, hoping that my voice was level.

“Empty when I looked too. Figured someone rebound it to use as a notebook or such.”

“Why’d you keep it around?”

“Bad luck to toss out a book, even a wordless one, so’s I believe.” Harold shrugged. “The shelf’s a bit of a take ‘n’ leave situation anyway. Figure someone might find use for it.”

“Right. Well, thank you again for your time,” I said, mind whirling with both relief that I wasn’t crazy and a deepening suspicion that Willy might be some kind of psychopath. This train of thought prompted a final question.

“Hey, uh, about your wifi situation. How do you find it? Good connection most of the time?”

Harold crossed his arms and huffed. “I can’t seem to figure it out. It normally works fine, and Taylor takes care of it if it gets hinky, but lately it’s been all over the place. Seems to be happening to a bunch of places actually, if you ask around.”

I refrained from asking if these places had also been visited by a young man who read books with nothing in them. It made no sense whatsoever, but I couldn’t shake the idea that Willy was messing with the wifi. It was my own damn fault for dubbing him Wifi Willy.

That night I looked up The Secret to Living by John B. Zachary. No trace of it.

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Continued in Part 1-3

This story was originally published on the Hive blockchain & ecosystem, as part of the Scholar & Scribe community. See info on the latest Polygon NFTs and story parts here.